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SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 12)

It’s Day 12 of the Natsu Basho, and the drama is getting intense. Sekiwake Tochinoshin remains undefeated and alone at the top of the leaderboard, with the two yokozuna still a single loss behind him. The thing is, today Tochinoshin squares off against Hakuho!

All basho long, I’ve been talking about how the Kyokai [Sumo Association] has told Tochinoshin that his promotion to ozeki requires more than just a certain number of wins—he must also show high quality performance. Most sumo pundits have interpreted that to mean that he must get at least one win against a yokozuna or an ozeki. However, one of the yokozuna and both ozeki are kyujo [absent due to injury], leaving him only two chances to achieve this feat. One of those chances is today in his match against Hakuho. The thing is, in his whole career, Tochinoshin has never beaten Hakuho in a honbasho [grand tournament]—not once in twenty-five previous matches. If he can do it here, he’ll have locked in his ozeki promotion.

One note on Hakuho, though. In his Wednesday match against Shodai, he took a sharp blow to the nose that seemed to very much bother him when the bout was done. It’s possible that he broke it. While such an injury would almost certainly not keep him from competing, but it might well affect the level of the sumo he performs—especially in a brawling match against one of the strongest rikishi around. This really shouldn’t be a problem or a story . . . but depending on what actually happened yesterday, it just might.

Kakuryu dodged a bullet yesterday in his match against komusubi Mitakeumi. It was only the seventh time the two had met, and they’d split the previous six 3–3. Mitakeumi was game, and kept up with the yokozuna step for step and slap for slap, but in the end Kakuryu’s experience won out with a nifty move at the dohyo’s edge.

It’s interesting that Tochinoshin, Hakuho, and Kakuryu are the three rikishi involved in this yusho [tournament championship] race, as these are the three who started the tournament with very specific reasons to want to claim victory. Tochinoshin, of course, is bucking for a promotion to ozeki and winning the yusho would certainly get it for him, regardless of how he performs against the yokozuna. Kakuryu, on the other hand, won the May tournament and has never won back-to-back yusho (a small blot on his record as a yokozuna), and he can feel retirement starting to creep up on him, so this may be his last chance. Meanwhile, Hakuho’s father passed away in April, and he would very much like to win the match to honor the man who was a silver-medalist in Olympic wrestling and a legendary figure back in Mongolia. You couldn’t have scripted a better head-to-head-to-head yusho race, and I’m really enjoying watching it play out. One big “plot point” in this storyline will be resolved in today’s final match.

M8 Yoshikaze (5–6) vs. M11 Daiamami (4–7)—Two solid rikishi trying to turn their performances around before it’s too late. Daiamami will be make-koshi [majority of losses] with one more loss, Yoshikaze can only afford two more. An energetic match that is most notable because it ends with a very rare kimarite [winning maneuver]. (4:35)
M5 Kotoshogiku (6–5) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (7–4)—Kotoshogiku has been having a very solid basho, but ran into the tournament leader and two yokozuna over the past few days. He wants to get back to his winning ways before things get too desperate. Meanwhile, Ichinojo is starting to come back from his own mid-basho slump, but he still needs one more win to secure his kachi-koshi and his sekiwake rank. (11:30)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (10–1) vs. M5 Ikioi (8–3)—Kakuryu got a little lucky in his win over komusubi Mitakeumi yesterday. Today he faces Ikioi who has been fighting very well despite a nagging leg injury that has him limping off the dohyo after almost every day’s match. (12:40)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (11–0) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–1)—This is it—not only the match of the day, but the match that everyone has been anticipating since the start of the basho. A win for Tochinoshin will pretty much secure his promotion to ozeki, a win for Hakuho will create at least a two-way tie for the lead in the race for the yusho. (13:55)

 

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Natsu Basho, and sekiwake Tochinoshin remains unbeaten and alone atop the leaderboard. With M11 Chiyonokuni losing yesterday, there are now only two rikishi tied for second place with 8–1 records—the two yokozuna, Hakuho and Kakuryu.

Tochinoshin continues to look very strong, beating M4 Chiyotairyu (a pretty substantial opponent at 190 kg (419 lbs)) by lifting him off his feet and forcing him over the ring’s edge. Now with double-digit wins, no losses, and 34 wins over the last three basho, Tochinoshin is looking more and more likely to get a promotion to ozeki. However, in order to lock it in he’s really got to beat either Kakuryu or Hakuho. And he’s NEVER beaten Hakuho in his entire career. Still, things are looking good. Today he faces M5 Kotoshogiku.

Speaking of Kotoshogiku, he will likely be full of fire and vengeance today after being embarrassed by Kakuryu yesterday. It’s not so much that he lost (technically, that was to be expected), but it’s how the match unfolded. Instead of launching headlong into their forty-ninth confrontation, the yokozuna pulled a blatant henka [sidestepping at the initial charge] and rolling Kotoshogiku into a somersault off the dohyo and into the crowd. It was embarrassing, and it was very un-yokozuna-like. Apparently, in the after-match interviews Kakuryu was quoted as saying that he was not proud of what he’d done. For Kotoshogiku it must be even worse because last year when he was trying to save his ozeki status, then-ozeki Terunofuji pulled a similar henka that cost Kotoshogiku any hope of regaining his rank.

But the worst thing that happened yesterday was in the M7 Ryuden vs. M9 Hokutofuji match. In a matta [false start] the two bonked heads and Hokutofuji was knocked senseless. Rather than stopping the match and getting him immediate attention for what was clearly at least a minor concussion, the gyoji [referee] and shimpan [side judges] let the action play out. When walking back to the dressing room, Hokutofuji first lost his balance and leaned against a wall, then fell to his knees, but even at that point he was allowed to get up and just walk back to the locker room without even a cursory look from trainers or EMTs. This match should have been stopped immediately after the blow, and Hokutofuji forced to go to the hospital for examination and observation. In a world where we know what damage concussive brain injuries can do, it is criminal for sumo to hang onto its “tough guys shake it off and keep going” attitude.

Not surprisingly, Hokutofuji is kyujo as of today, meaning he will most likely end the tournament with a 4–7–4 make-koshi [majority of losses]. I mean, I certainly HOPE that no one will let him even think of PRACTICING for at least a week or two after that incident. However, officially he is kyujo due to a “leg/neck injury,” with no mention being made by his heya or the Kyokai [Sumo Association] about any concussion.

M10 Takakeisho (5–5) vs. M6 Takarafuji (6–4)—Two mid-level, pusher/thruster rikishi fighting hard to get to kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. This is some fun sumo. (5:20)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (10–1) vs. M5 Kotoshogiku (6–4)—Is Kotoshogiku motivated enough from his embarrassing loss yesterday to inflict some embarrassment on our tournament leader? Tochinoshin seems laser-focused on his goal. (11:00)
M4 Shodai (6–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (9–1)
—Hakuho is still looking strong, but then so is Shodai. Gotta give the edge to the yokozuna, though. (12:30)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (9–1) vs. komusubi Mitakeumi (7–3)
—These two have only fought six times before, but Mitakeumi has won half of those bouts. That’s a stellar record against a yokozuna! Can he take the lead in their head-to-head series AND knock Kakuryu out of his tie for second place in the yusho hunt? (13:50)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 10)

It’s Day 10 of the Natsu Basho, and for once this tournament, there have been no changes on the top end of the standings. Sekiwake Tochinoshin is still undefeated, and still alone atop the leaderboard, followed by a trio of rikishi who have secured kachi-koshi [majority of wins] with 8–1 records—yokozuna Hakuho, yokozuna Kakuryu, and M11 Chiyonokuni.

With ozeki Goeido having gone kyujo [absent due to injury] (ostensibly because of aggravating an ankle injury, but probably more just to save face), the only high-ranking opponents left on Tochinoshin’s schedule are the two yokozuna. He’s already had his matches against all the other sanyaku rikishi. And since the yokozuna bouts almost certainly won’t be scheduled until Friday and Saturday (because they’ll draw better TV viewing audiences then), Tochinoshin is going to have a relatively light schedule for the next few days. Today he faces M4 Chiyotairyu, and tomorrow M5 Kotoshogiku. As long as he stays focused, the chances are very good for him to reach 11–0 and make another point in his case for promotion to ozeki. 

Hakuho today will face komusubi Endo, who is returning after three days kyujo because of an elbow injury he suffered in his loss to fellow komusubi Mitakeumi. Meanwhile, Kakuryu will face Kotoshogiku. And sekiwake Ichinojo, having gotten a default win due to Goeido’s absence yesterday, will have M4 Shodai. The question is whether a walk-over win has helped Ichinojo shake his four-match losing streak and get back to the kind of sumo he was doing during the early part of the basho.

The dark horse Chiyonokuni still has a few days against opponents ranked near the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet] before he starts getting “rewarded” for his strong performance by being boosted up in the daily pairings to fight opponents in the upper Maegashira range. He’d better make what hay he can against opponents like the one he has today—M17 Nishikigi.

M17 Nishikigi (6–3) vs. M11 Chiyonokuni (8–1)—Chiyonokuni is still just one win behind the leader, so it’s best to keep an eye on him. Today he gets what may be the last of his low-level opponents (and certainly the lowest ranked man he’s going to face, as at M17 Nishikigi is on the very bottom rung of the Makuuchi Division). (2:45)
M7 Ryuden (1–8) vs. M9 Hokutofuji (4–5)—This isn’t a good match. Indeed, it shows one of the worst sides of sumo—the lack of modern injury protocol. There’s no blood or broken bones, but there’s for sure a concussion, the bout just rolls on. (6:45)
Komusubi Mitakeumi (6–3) vs. M5 Ikioi (7–2)—A spirited bout between two very good rikishi. Despite obviously still suffering from a nagging leg injury, Ikioi is doing well this basho. And Mitakeumi seems to have regained his mojo. (11:25)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (9–0) vs. M4 Chiyotairyu (4–5)—Our yusho [tournament championship] race leader tries to keep his record perfect as it rolls into double digits. Can he keep his focus through Week 2 and into his bouts with the yokozuna? (12:10)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (8–1) vs. M5 Kotoshogiku (6–3)—Kotoshogiku again faces an opponent that he is very familiar with. These two have gone head to head forty-eight times in the past, and it’s been a tight competition—Kakuryu leads the series 26–22. (13:45)
Komusubi Endo (3–4–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (8–1)—Endo is back from three days being kyujo and immediately has to face Hakuho. Hakuho has to keep his winning streak alive if he wants a chance to win this basho in honor of his recently deceased father. (14:50)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 9)

It’s Day 9 of the Natsu Basho, and as we begin Week 2 of the tournament sekiwake Tochinoshin remains undefeated and alone atop the leaderboard. He’s followed by three rikishi—yokozuna Hakuho, yokozuna Kakuryu, and M11 Chiyonokuni—who have just one loss.

Tochinoshin showed great power and skill in beating fellow sekiwake Ichinojo on Sunday. It was a match where two of sumo’s biggest, strongest rikishi went head-to-head in a classic power-sumo battle. Ichinojo seemed to have shaken off the malaise that had come over him in his three prior bouts, but in the end was out-matched by Tochinoshin on every level. This gave Tochinoshin his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and keeps him on track for getting 11 or more victories in his bid to attain a promotion to ozeki. 

One bit of bad news for Tochinoshin is that as of today ozeki Goeido has gone kyujo [absent due to injury or illness]. The reason this is bas is that the factor in Tochinoshin’s potential promotion is that he prove that he belongs in the “champion” level by defeating one or more opponents that are currently there. But with yokozuna Kisenosato and ozeki Takayasu already kyujo, Goeido’s withdrawal leaves only two opponents for the sekiwake to prove himself against—the two active yokozuna.

That having been said, withdrawing really was the best move for Goeido to make. He started the tournament strong with three straight victories, but is now 3–5 after losing for the fifth straight day on Sunday. This would seem to be more than his usual lack of focus, and put him on an almost certain path to make-koshi [majority of losses], so the best way to save face was for him to go kyujo. This means that he’ll be kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in July’s Nagoya Basho . . . but so will his fellow ozeki Takayasu, who has been absent from this tournament entirely. However, since Kyokai [Sumo Association] rules say that there must always be at least two ozeki, this may actually play to Tochinoshin’s advantage. (The Kyokai may want to hedge their bets against one or both of the current ozeki faltering in July.)

M14 Takekaze (4–4) vs. M11 Chiyonokuni (7–1)—As one of the three rikishi one win off the lead, it’s about time to start following Chiyonokuni’s exploits a little closer. Today, he squares off against the second=oldest rikishi in the top division (2:25)
Komusubi Mitakeumi (5–3) vs. M3 Yutakayama (0–8)—Mitakeumi is having a strong basho and needs just three more wins to secure his kachi-koshi. Yutakayama, on the other hand, has been fighting well, but each day finding himself on the wrong end of the gunbai [the war fan that the referee uses to point to the match winner] and is already make-koshi [majority of losses]. Sometimes that sort of adversity will bring out the lion in a rikishi. (9:55)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (8–0) vs. M3 Daieisho (2–6)—Tochinoshin has his kachi-koshi and needs only one more win to reach 33 in the past three tournaments—technically enough to be considered for an ozeki promotion. Of course, the Kyokai has already told him that’s not enough, so he knows that he needs at least three more wins AND to prove his worthiness in his matches against the yokozuna. Still, he needs to remain focused and continue beating his lower-ranked opponents, like today’s Daieisho. (11:10)
M5 Kotoshogiku (6–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–1)—This will be the sixtieth time that these two have gone head to head in their long careers. Unfortunately for Kotoshogiku, Hakuho has won fifty-three of those prior meetings. And although Kotoshogiku did manage to win their last match, it was a fusensho [default win] the day that Hakuho withdrew from January’s Hatsu Basho.  (12:45)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (7–1) vs. M4 Shodai (6–2)—After a Day 4 slip, Kakuryu has quietly continued to win. He hasn’t been flashy or even dominant, but he has been relentless, and he may well be the man to beat in this tournament. He’s got strong motivation in that he is trying to win back-to-back yusho [tournament championships] for the first time in his career. (14:30)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

Holy cats! We’re at Nakabi [the middle day] already? How did Day 8 get here so quickly? It’s been a week of sumo that began with ALL the top rankers winning for the first few days, and all but one of them dropping one match, and most of them dropping losing twice or more by the time we reached the midpoint. Seikwake Tochinoshin is currently the only 7–0 rikishi, followed by the quartet of yokozuna Hakuho, yokozuna Kakuryu, M9 Daishomaru, and M11 Chiyonokuni at 6–1.

Tochinoshin, as you may know, is on the hunt for a promotion to ozeki. Because he started this run while still a maegashira-ranked rikishi (when he won the yusho [tournament championship] in January), he started the basho knowing that he needed to get at least 11 wins and would probably have to notch victories over at least one yokozuna or ozeki. Being undefeated at the midway point is a good start to that, but now he’s got to follow that up with a just-as-spectacular Week 2, beginning today with his match against his fellow sekiwake, Ichinojo.

Ichinojo started the tournament looking rejuvenated, perhaps even reborn. He was fighting with an energy, determination, and style that he’s NEVER shown in the past, and that got him off to a 4–0 start. However, for the past three days he’s looked like the Ichinojo of old—plodding, uninspired, and clueless. If he can find the spirit he had on Days 1 through 4, the match against Tochinoshin should be one of the most exciting of the tournament. If he continues to fight the way he has on Days 5 through 7, he doesn’t stand a chance.

Hakuho bounced back from his surprise Friday loss to M2 Abi by completely dominating M4 Chiyotairyu yesterday. Some of my friends think that Hakuho is going to have three or four “off days” like Friday over the course of this basho, I think that was the only one he’ll give. That doesn’t mean he won’t lose again, but I don’t think he’ll give up another kinboshi [gold star award for a maegashira-ranked rikishi beating a yokozuna]. Of course, he only has two or three of those left this tournament (unless more sanyaku rikishi start going kyujo [absent due to injury]).

Ozeki Goeido, meanwhile, has gone completely in the tank and went from a 3–0 start to coming into today’s match with a 3–4 record. He has looked absolutely miserable the past few days—unfocused, overconfident, and unaware of what is happening around him in the dohyo. As much as I root against the guy because of his lackluster performance, he’s definitely better than this, and I want him to get his head back in the game. 

I haven’t said much about yokozuna Kakuryu during this week, mostly because he was the first of the top-rankers to notch a loss, and then he just hasn’t done anything either spectacularly good or spectacularly bad since—he’s just quietly gone back to winning his matches in workmanlike fashion. Still, that puts him up near the top of the leaderboard, so I’m probably not showing him enough respect. That having been said, I also expect him to hang another loss on his record somewhere in the next couple of days and drop out of immediate yusho contention. I’m not rooting for that outcome, mind you, I’m just expecting it.

M8 Yoshikaze (4–3) vs. M10 Takakeisho (2–5)—A big, slapity slapity slap-fest that begins and ends with a head-butt. (4:00)
M10 Okinoumi (4–3) vs. M7 Chiyomaru (2–5)—Sometimes it pays just to hang in there as long as you can and hope you get an opening. (5:35)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (7–0) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (4–3)—It may come with three more matches left to fight, but THIS is the bout that everyone is most looking forward to. Two of sumo’s biggest and most powerful rikishi going head-to-head! The two sekiwake have both had transformative tournament’s so far, and each wants to be seen as the best at sumo’s third-highest rank. Tochinoshin, is on a march toward a promotion to ozeki, and in order to get it he has to show his merit against the toughest opponents. Ichinojo is coming off a three-day losing streak and wants to show that the performance he put in at the tournament’s start was not just a fluke.  (11:50)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 7)

We’ve reached Day 7 and the middle weekend of the Natsu Basho, and suddenly things are quite different. After several surprises yesterday, we find sekiwake Tochinoshin alone atop the leaderboard as the last still-undefeated rikishi. Both yokozuna Hakuho and M4 Shodai suffered upset defeats on Friday, sending them down into six-man group of 5–1 rikishi nipping at the big Georgian’s heels.

Hakuho’s loss was even more surprising in that it was against M2 Abi, whom he was facing for the first time. Hakuho is renowned for almost never losing his first match to any new rikishi, and also for very rarely giving away kinboshi [gold star prize for a Makuuchi rikishi who beats a yokozuna]. However, despite the fact that sumo pontiffs have been bemoaning the fact that Abi has only one style of attack, and that everyone has figured it out, Hakuho seemed completely unprepared for the long-armed pushing/thrusting attack and was very quickly shoved back and out of the ring.

Also having bad days yesterday were sekiwake Ichinojo (who lost his second match of the tournament) and ozeki Goeido (who lost his third). I’ve spent a lot of time so far this week talking about how much improved Ichinojo has performed, but on Friday he looked just like is old self—completely lackluster, sluggish, and without a plan other than being heavier than his opponent—while M1 Tamawashi was clearly focused and determined to turn around what so far has been a disappointing basho. Meanwhile, Goeido seemed like he was already thinking about his weekend opponents and forgot that he had to actually fight against M4 Chiyotairyu. The ozeki got slapped around so hard that he literally came off his feet.

On the better side, Tochinoshin remembered to bring his grit and determination to Friday’s bout. It’s a good thing, too, because M3 Yutakayama had an upset victory on his mind. He gave the sekiwake a good run for his money, but in the end Tochinoshin was a little too quick and little too clever for him, turning the tables with a throw at the ring’s edge. And things get even better for him today. Tochinoshin was scheduled to fight komusubi Endo in what was sure to be one of the best matches of the day. Unfortunately, Endo injured his right bicep and is now kyujo [absent due to injury] giving Tochinoshin a fusensho [victory by default].

M14 Sadanoumi (4–2) vs. M17 Nishikigi (3–3)—A couple of low-ranked rikishi giving it their all. The really neat thing about this match is the winning maneuver. (1:20)
M12 Arawashi (1–5) vs. M16 Aminishiki (1–5)—Two even lower-ranked rikishi who are renowned for their clever sumo. There’s a lot of gamesmanship going on in the ring, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. (2:00)
M2 Shohozan (1–5) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (4–2)—In the first four days of the tournament, Ichinojo looked like a new man, but the last couple of days he’s fallen back on old habits. Can he turn that around against Shohozan, who’s having an unimpressive basho AND is about half Ichinojo’s size and weight? (10:35)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 6)

It’s Day 6 of the Natsu Basho, and we’re heading into the middle weekend with just three undefeated rikishi remaining—yokozuna Hakuho, sekiwake Tochinoshin, and M4 Shodai—with six 4–1 rikishi hot on their heels (led by yokozuna Kakuryu and sekiwake Ichinojo).

Tochinoshin continued his relentless march toward a possible ozeki promotion by making relatively quick work of M1 Kaisei (who is having a terrible basho so far at 0–5). Meanwhile, the other sekiwake, Ichinojo, suffered his first defeat of the tournament in a rip-roaring match against komusubi Endo. The good news for Ichinojo is that he continued to look strong and focused even in a loss, fighting back from the edge of the ring and very nearly throwing Endo on his head. It feels weird after so many tournaments spent disparaging they guy, but I’m very excited to see Ichinojo perform up to his potential and hope that he bounces back today.

Speaking of bouncing back, Kakuru straightened got his groove back as he beat M2 Abi, who put up a spectacular fight in his first-ever match against a yokozuna. Meanwhile, ozeki Goeido stopped his losing streak at two by overpowering M3 Yutakayama, whose record drops to a dismal 0–5. Komusubi Mitakeumi also got back in a winning way against M1 Tamawashi, but suffered a cut above his eye in the process. Hopefully it will a suture or two will keep it closed and prevent it from bothering him for the rest of the tournament.

It feels weird to not mention Hakuho in these daily updates, but the truth is that other than his close call against Mitakeumi on Day 2, the yokozuna has been in control and calmly going about his business. It’s just not “news” when Hakuho has a perfect record on Day 6. Maybe the biggest news is how strong he’s looking after being absent for nearly two full tournaments. But for someone with 40 yusho [tournament championships] and closing in on a thousand Makuuchi Division wins, it seems pretty much par for the course.

M15 Kyokutaisei (4–1) vs. M13 Aoiyama (2–3)—A spirited match between two big men. Kyokutaisei is doing very well so far in his debut tournament in the Makuuchi Division. Aoiyama came into the basho with a knee injury, and his performance has been understandably spotty because of it. However, today both rikishi definitely brought their A-game. (1:50)
M4 Shodai (5–0) vs. M1 Kaisei (0–5)—Both of these rikishi are looking very much like they did a year ago. Shodai is strong and confident, Kaisei is bringing his B-game more often than not. But we know that lurking in there somewhere is Kaisei-A, and that despite a very strong 2017, Shodai has been kind of a punching bag through most of 2018. If they both are on their game, this will be a barn burner. (8:15)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (5–0) vs. M3 Yutakayama (0–5)—Tochinoshin continues to look almost unassailable, and Yutakayama hasn’t found his groove yet this basho.  (9:55)
M1 Tamawashi (1–4) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (4–1)—Tamawashi has put in some very spirited matches this basho, but they’ve all been against sanyaku rikishi, and nothing seems to be falling his way. Ichinojo is the highest ranked opponent he has left to face (after that it’s komusubi Endo, and he’ll have run the gauntlet). In normal tournaments, I’d say that Tamawashi was pretty much Ichinojo’s equal, but given how the big Mongolian has been performing this week, I’m not sure that’s true anymore. (11:05)
M2 Abi (1–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (5–0)—Abi just had his first ever match against a yokozuna yesterday, and now it’s time for his second. Good luck, kid! (13:45)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 5)

It’s Day 5 of the Natsu Basho, and we’re dealing with the fall-out of a couple more upsets in yesterday’s action. Yokozuna Kakuryu fell back into his backpedaling bad habit and let M2 Shohozan steal a win from him, knocking him off the leaderboard. In addition, ozeki Goeido fell back into his own bad habit of following one bad performance with another, giving him his second loss before the middle of Week 1. Meanwhile, yokozuna Hakuho and both sekiwake (Tochinoshin and Ichinojo) continued their strong performances and remain undefeated, along with M4 Shodai.

Tochinoshin looked like a real ozeki candidate, completely overpowering komusubi Mitakeumi and collecting his fourth win in just a few seconds. Ichinojo only took a little more time and effort to beat M3 Yutakayama and continue to make it seem like he’s finally serious about this sumo thing. Hakuho had it easiest of all as M1 Kaisei seemed to trip over his own feet after the tachi-ai [initial charge] and basically rolled himself out of the ring.

Now that we’ve had a few upsets, the pressure is going to start building as the tournament rolls toward the middle weekend. It’s still a wide open yusho [tournament championship] race, but a few of the likely contenders (in particular, Goeido) are on the verge of dropping themselves out of the hunt.

A Viewing Note: As you watch the matches, keep a weather-eye on the crowd behind the gyoji [referee]. There you’ll see a group known to many English-speaking fans as the “Pink Ladies.” They’re a cadre of Tokyo-based sumo enthusiasts who get tickets for one mid-week day during each tournament held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan and come dressed in bright pink dresses with matching bonnets. They’ve been doing this since before I started watching sumo in the early ‘90s, and they’ve become a beloved, if quirky, sumo tradition. This year it looks like there are only two of the Pink Ladies in attendance (I’ve seen as many as seven in years past).

M16 Aminishik (0–4) vs. M14 Takekaze (3–1)—The two oldest rikishi in the top division, Aminishiki (39) and Takekaze (38), square off for the thirty-sixth time in their long careers. So far, Takekaze leads the series 17–18, and don’t think that doesn’t matter to these wily veterans. It may not be the most genki [energetic] sumo of the day, but it may well be the cleverest. (0:15)
M11 Daiamami (3–1) vs. M11 Chiyonokuni (3–1)
—This in another one of those matches where two mid-level rikishi each just get it in their minds that NOTHING is going to stop them today, and we get treated to an incredibly tenacious bout. (3:05)
M6 Chiyoshoma (1–3) vs. M4 Shodai (4–0)—Could the confident, domineering Shodai who vaulted up the banzuke [ranking sheet] two years ago, and spent all of last year as a sanyaku rikishi, finally be back. He’s looking so strong so far this tournament, it’s easy to believe so. (8:05)
Komusubi Endo (2–2) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (4–0)—We knew coming in that this was going to be one of the matches that the crowd was most excited for, but as it turns out, it’s also flat out the best match of the day. So good you’ll want to watch it twice! (10:16)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (4–0) vs. M1 Kaisei (0–4)—Tochinoshin continues his assault on a promotion to ozeki, today against the towering Brazilian rikishi, Kaisei (who is struggling so far this basho). (12:25)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 4)

It’s Day 4 of the Natsu Basho, and suddenly we have a relatively compact leaderboard. Only eight rikishi have managed to win all of their first three matches—yokozuna Hakuho, yokozuna Kakuryu, sekiwake Tochinoshin, sekiwake Ichinojo, M4 Shodai, M5 Ikioi, M10 Okinoumi, and M12 Asanoyama. Of course, it’s so early in the tournament that there are still thirteen rikishi just one win behind with 2–1 records.

After dancing out of trouble in his Monday match against komusubi Mitakeumi, on Tuesday Hakuho came out strong and literally blew M2 Shohozan out of the ring and off the dohyo. Meanwhile Kakuryu took only slightly more time to out-maneuver M1 Kaisei. So both yokozuna are so far looking unflappable.

The two sekiwake are also looking strong and confident. Tochinoshin had more trouble with his own feet after winning the match than he did with his actual opponent, M1 Tamawashi. And Ichinojo showed some real tenacity in his bout against M3 Daieisho, continuing to press the attack after being stymied in his first and second charges. In the past, he would have simply have gone into “leaning tower” mode, and probably would have ended up on the short end of the stick.

And, as I suggested in my commentary yesterday, when faced with strong competition in the form of komusbi Endo, ozeki Goeido showed us his feet of clay and suffered his first loss of the tournament. The big question now is whether he’ll dig deep and refocus himself today, or if he’ll go into one of his two-or-three-day funks and compound his problems with more upset losses. For his part, Endo has done himself a lot of good by stealing a win over a top-ranked opponent. If he can do that one more time, he’ll be in strong position to get a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] in his first tournament at sumo’s toughest rank.

M7 Ryuden (0–3) vs. M8 Yoshikaze (1–2)—Both of these rikishi have struggled in the first few days of the tournament, and it seems like they decided to take it out on each other. Worth watching twice. (5:30)
M5 Kotoshogiku (2–1) vs. M6 Chiyoshoma (1–2)—Kotoshogiku hasn’t really been worth talking about for a while. Although he was demoted from the rank of ozeki, as long as he held on near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet] he was still facing the same top-level competition that, quite frankly, he is no longer a match for. Now that he’s fallen to the mid-maegashira ranks, though, he has a much better chance to use his size and experience to dominate the competition. The only problem is, if he DOES he’ll just get promoted back up to a level where he’s everybody’s punching bag again. (7:55)
M5 Ikioi (3–0) vs. M4 Shodai (3–0)—Two undefeated rikishi facing off. This is the kind of thing that often happens in the middle of Week 2, but we’re getting it today. Ikioi has looked strong so far, but word is that he’s still nursing a knee injury. Shodai, on the other hand, seems to have regained the calm, focused demeanor that helped him shoot up the banzuke last year. (9:30)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (3–0) vs. komusubi Mitakeumi (2–1)—This will be Tochinoshin’s first big challenge. If he wants to get promoted to ozeki, he’s going to have to be just as dominant over the komusubi as he is against all the other rikishi ranked lower than he is. The problem is, Mitakeumi is no ordinary komusubi, he just finished holding on to the sekiwake ranking for five straight tournaments, and only barely missed out on keeping it again because of a Day 15 loss to ozeki Goeido in the Osaka Basho. (12:36)
M1 Tamawashi (0–3) vs. ozeki Goeido (2–1)—Goeido suffered his first loss yesterday to komusubi Endo. The big question today is whether Goeido, whom pundits have been saying looks fit enough to win the tournament, can get his focus back and return to a winning way . . . or if he’s gone into his habitual post-loss mope and will now lose two or three days in a row. Maybe the best thing to happen to Tamawashi’s tournament was for Goeido to have lost yesterday. It really increases his chance to change his own fortunes and pick up his first win. (14:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (3–0) vs. M2 Shohozan (0–3)—When Kakuryu and Shohozan meet, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be a big, stand-up slap-fest in the center of the ring. And twelve times in their thirteen meetings, Kakuryu’s superior size and strength, and the weight of his yokozuna rank, have nabbed him the win. Shohozan is coming off back to back to back losses to a yokozuna, an ozeki, and a sekiwake so he’s sure to be feisty. But it’s unlikely that “feisty” will be enough to carry the day. (14:35)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 3)

Welcome to Day 3 of the Natsu Basho, where so far things are going very much according to plan. The sanyaku rikishi are all winning their early matches (except for the komusubi who are losing when facing yokozuna).

Hakuho had a bit of a scare yesterday, though, when komusubi Mitakeumi took control of their match with a slick move off the tachi-ai [initial charge]. Actually, the replay made it look to me more like Hakuho’s hand slipped while trying to grab his opponent’s mawashi [belt], but the result was the same. Still it gave us look at some of the reasons he has been and still is the best in the world. Hakuho reacted so fast that Mitakeumi couldn’t take advantage of his superior position. And then, as the match progressed, Hakuho showed that he isn’t just quick to move, he’s quick to stop, which allows him to control the distance between himself and his opponent better than anyone else I’ve ever seen. In this case, Hakuho putting on the breaks suddenly put him in back in control of the match, and he was then able to end it very quickly with one of his famous uwatenage [overarm throw] maneuvers.

Sekiwake Tochinoshin also looked very strong facing the young up and comer Abi. Although Abi had the size and strength to keep the big Georgian literally at arm’s reach, he couldn’t really do much more than that. And once Tochinoshin maneuvered his way close enough to grab the belt, the match was pretty much done.

Sekiwake Ichinojo, the heaviest man in the top division, continued to show his new winning style by overpowering M1 Kaisei, the second heaviest. Can Ichinojo REALLY have finally turned the corner and become a rikishi worth rooting for?

You may have noticed that we’re on Day 3 and I still haven’t said anything at all about ozeki Goeido. That’s because, despite the fact that some of the announcers are anxious to talk him up and say that he’s looking strong, so far he just looks like the same old Goeido to me. He wins the matches that come easily, and that definitely describes his first two. The question is how he’ll perform when an opponent actually puts up a fight, particularly an unexpected one. Will he dig deep and find the grit to come back and win, or will he roll over and get that “how did this happen to me?” look on his face? And then the even bigger question will be how he reacts the day after that. Will he knuckle down and get himself back on track, or will he mope for a day or two and compound one loss into three? Based on past performance, I think the latter option is most likely in both cases, and that makes me loathe to spend much time talking about him here in the early part of the tournament. Sure, Goeido has the skill and power to be a contender, he’s shown that in small flashes over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, he more frequently shows that he lacks the temperament to make the most of those qualities.

M16 Myogiryu (1–1) vs. M16 Aminishiki 0–2)—The first match of the day is mostly interesting to me because there’s a matta [false start], and the mics clearly pick up Myogiryu apologizing. “Ahhh .. gomen.” Very polite.  (0:10)
M10 Okinoumi (2–0) vs. M12 Arawashi (1–1)
—Two middle of the banzuke [ranking sheet] rikishi who turn in one of the most hard-fought, gutsy matches of the tournament so far. (3:45)
M3 Daieisho (0–2) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (2–0)—Another match that gives strong evidence that Ichinojo has somehow at this late date learned how to be tenacious and not to just rely on his size. (11:40)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (2–0) vs. M1 Tamawashi (0–2)—Tochinoshin is looking strong, but today he faces someone who is as big as he is, and nearly as strong. Tamawashi may be winless so far, but his losses have been to the two Yokozuna, so that’s to be expected. Today is the first match that he’s got a real chance to be competitive. (13:10)
Komusubi Endo (1–1) vs. ozeki Goeido (2–0)—Two rikishi with very big, very vocal fan clubs present in the audience. Definitely one of the bouts that today’s crowd was most excited for. (14:25)